Trevor Noah’s India-Pakistan Joke and the Limits of Comedy

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Comedian and host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah has faced fierce backlash on social media over a joke commenting that a war between India and Pakistan would be “the most entertaining of all time” and stylizing it as a Bollywood musical. When the episode aired it immediately received waves of vilification over social media, namely Twitter. A multitude of Indian and Pakistani celebrities and everyday internet-goers promptly protested the gag.

The strongly opinionated human wave against the comedian originated from a recent flare in tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region. In previous months the region has seen a Pakistani suicide bombing, artillery barrages over both sides of the temporary border (the “Line of Control”), as well as air raids against targets within each other’s borders. An Indian fighter was also shot down over Pakistan and its pilot captured. He was later returned to India.

via UPI

Some particularly disgruntled users even pointed out the sensitivity of his mother being shot by her husband, equating it to how they feel having their countries’ foreign relations parodied.

It’s sad when someone who’s had a violent past mocks war through a Bollywood stereotype. [Trevor Noah’s] mother was shot in the head by her husband (Trevor’s stepfather). Imagine someone making fun of it with a Xhosa stereotype – the tribe his mum belongs to.”

— Zainab Sikander, Political Commentator

Noah was quick to release an apology in a bid to save face in the wake of the severe backlash. However, this does raise questions about the limits of comedy in a day and age where the feelings of groups and individuals are garnering an ever-growing spotlight. In the face of a growing trend of inclusiveness in media and in day-to-day life, we may end up seeing a shift in comedy where it’s necessary for comedians to avoid such thin-ice topics. The debate over this has been ongoing long before the incident with Trevor Noah earned the spotlight, however it remains to be seen if it will yield any long term consequences.